With a fresh increase in sentiments against street dogs and hostility towards their feeders (even the relatively polite colony groups I am on are now full of gloating, sweeping denunciations by educated people), another reminder of just how precarious these street lives are – even the dogs who have humans regularly feeding and looking out for them. I lost one of my building dogs yesterday.
And such were the circumstances and miscommunications involved that though he was lying dead for a few hours just across the road from our colony, I didn’t get to see the body before it was taken away by the MCD in the evening. (In recent years I have assisted with the burial/cremation of many community dogs whom I didn’t know personally – some of those stories have been chronicled here – but here was a dog I had been feeding daily for years, and I didn’t see him a final time, much less put him to rest. All I have is an unpleasant, indeterminate photograph that caused some confusion for a few hours since someone else had misidentified it as being a dog she knew.)
“He didn’t really let us touch him while he was living… and he didn’t let us touch him once he was gone.”Quote by a fellow feeder
True enough – this Kaalu (another generic name, given to him by guards before I became acquainted with him) was not an easy dog to get along with. He was thin and frail-looking (a condition that had worsened in the past few months – though his appetite was good, I think he may have succumbed to a version of the stomach/intestinal condition that took my Foxie), but many people in the colony, even animal-carers, were wary of his temper; there was a time a few years ago when his potential for aggression had caused me a lot of trouble.
Which made it flattering that he seemed, dare I say it, fond of me in his distant, suspicious way, and even let me pet him for a second or three while I was giving him dry food or biscuits. (I often saw something resembling softness in his eyes, which many people I know would scarcely believe – and, I found this weirdly moving and comforting, if he saw me walking towards the colony gate en route to the shops outside or the PVR Anupam complex, he would follow me closely for some distance even when there clearly wasn’t anything in it for him.) But he was also fully capable of snapping or snarling if my hand got too close to his ears to check for a possible wound. Medicating him was a painfully tough task, and the couple of occasions when I absolutely had to call my paravet friends to treat a maggot infection, it could take us hours just to get him into a sheltered space, restrain and muzzle him.
He came to Golf View Apartments around five years ago (after having been driven away from another Saket colony, I was reliably told – there are indications that he had a sad history, which may have contributed to his personality issues) and at some point settled near my building, making friends – against the odds – with another recently arrived dog whom we call Pandey. Pandey is beige, and bigger and sturdier than Kaalu was, but a complete scaredy-cat otherwise, and something just happened to click between them: they were usually together these past few years, running around in the colony or sleeping on my stairway (the last three winters my house help and I put out boris/mattresses for them), and Kaalu’s presence seemed to give Pandey confidence.
Personality issues apart, Kaalu wasn’t the sort of dog that neutral observers would take to – too emaciated, not “good-looking”, not enough clearly visible features if you gave him a casual glance from a distance – and I saw him on the receiving end of human hostility a few times over the years: little stones being thrown, sticks being waved threateningly (including by our colony guards at the behest of the RWA, until I intervened and gave a few of those old imbeciles a talking to). On one occasion he was following me around during my evening walk when I saw a vegetable vendor hit him hard, with a stick, on his bony and delicate back — only because he had been sniffing around outside his shop.
He’s gone now, and I will miss him a lot despite us never having been on anything close to cuddling terms. The main solace is that I could play a part in giving him a decent quality of life for his last few years. The thing to do now is to make lonely, nervous Pandey feel as comfortable as possible in his partner’s absence. Starting with the firecracker days that lie ahead. (Last year, on Diwali night, I kept both Kaalu and Pandey in my mother’s flat for several hours until the noise outside died down, and I remember looking at them and thinking how much like house dogs even the most feral “strays” could become once you gave them a safe space to settle down in. Kaalu didn’t get any more such opportunities, but Pandey will this year too.)
(Photos here: Kaalu atop a car, looking healthier than he had been in recent months, and under a table on Diwali night; on the stairs, and posing with Uday Bhatia’s Satya book; Kaalu and Pandey together in the park, on a car, and on our stairway)